Marriage Equality: An Amazing Achievement

In a dramatic success for the gay and lesbian communities, the Supreme Court ruled Friday that  same-sex marriage is legal across the nation, making the United States the 20th country to enshrine marriage equality on the national level.

Some activists expressed surprise that the nation has come so far over the last several decades. Social views on equality have certainly evolved at a dramatic clip. Over the last 20 years, approval of same-sex marriage leapt from 27 percent to 60 percent.

There is still much work to be done, however, as campaigners for pro-LGBTQ organizations point out.

For example, LGBTQ individuals can still be fired or evicted from their homes in a majority of states in the absence of a federal law barring such discrimination based on sexual orientation, according to Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign.

Another pressing issue is gay conversion therapy – an unscientific and, what critics argue, cruel process that is supposed change an individual’s sexual orientation. A recent court in New Jersey found that the process constitutes consumer fraud, yet the practice continues across the country.

Health risks are also at the forefront of the conversation. In one poll, 41 percent of trans and gender non-conforming youth have attempted suicide. That compares to a 4.6 percent overall suicide rate in the United States.  The Trevor Project – a nonprofit suicide prevention organizations geared toward LGBTQ youth – is working on this dire issue, but significant philanthropic work needs to be done in order to make a real impact.

These and other problems notwithstanding, the Supreme Court ruling reflects a monumental achievement for equality campaigners, and reflects a sea change in U.S. social views that is much more inclusive and fair to people of all genders and sexual orientations.

Ford Foundation: Inequality, Operations Spending Represent New Era

The Ford Foundation – the second largest grant-making organization in the United States – made big news on June 11 when it announced a major shift in its grant priorities and funding strategies. Last year, Ford Foundation president Darren Walker surveyed grant recipients on their most pressing issues and concerns, compiling over 2,000 responses from today’s most active nonprofits.

This pulse reading has resulted in what could end up being the decade’s most significant and influential sea change in philanthropy.

Under Walker’s leadership, the foundation has announced its new priority to focus exclusively on fighting global inequality. In addition, it will also dedicate a full 40 percent of its funding for no-strings-attached operational support.

The new focus on inequality breaks down into six areas where nonprofits are fighting to improve people’s lives: civic engagement, racial and gender equality, inclusive economies, internet freedom, creative pursuits, and educational opportunity. This rhetorical revolution has big implications, as the language of social justice emerges from the margins and becomes a mainstream language used to describe positive social change.

In an op-ed penned by Walker, the foundation’s president explores the overarching importance of acknowledging – and tackling – inequality, and how it relates to virtually all of today’s most urgent problems:

We have affirmed that inequality extends far beyond the wealth gap. Inequality is political, social, and cultural in nature. It contributes to deficits in democracy and discrimination along racial, ethnic, and gender lines. It is reflected in rising extremism, acute poverty, and even in the consequences of climate change.

As part of the “grand bargain” for revitalizing Detroit, the Ford Foundation has taken a leading role in promoting the arts. With the new shift in focus, artistic grant applicants will now have to focus on the discourse of inequality and social justice. Furthermore, nonprofit organizations that contextualize their work within the global context of inequality will stand a better chance of receiving one of the foundation’s highly coveted grants.

This is immensely significant. As research has shown, younger generations care passionately about issues revolving around inequality. Whether it’s racial, gender, or economic, inequality is at the forefront of younger generations’ mindset. Not only is the Ford Foundation’s change in priority reflective of the cultural zeitgeist in the United States, it will also contribute to this evolving mentality, and in turn generate a movement to strike at inequality’s root causes.

The second big piece of news from the foundation’s announcement is that it will dedicate 40 percent of its funding toward operations. Nonprofits – with thinly stretched resources and staff – are often expected to spend their funding on short-term projects. With pressure from donors to produce results, nonprofits often adhere to a fire sale model in which they sponsor many short-term projects at the expense of cultivating well-structured institutions. 

This model, however, precludes the kind of comprehensive, long-term planning that the private sector values and that often sets successes apart from failures. Uncharitable – the influential (and controversial) book by Dan Pallotta – explores these themes by discussing how to strengthen the philanthropy sector and equip nonprofits with the resources they need to make real, positive change. According to Pallotta, nonprofits need investment just like any other institution to grow and be successful. In order for this to happen,  he argues that the nonprofit sector needs to move past its insistence on demonstrating high programming expenditure and low overhead.

The Ford Foundation’s move toward operational spending is a bold step toward a growth mentality. By investing in operations, nonprofits will see assets and value grow, and will be able to organize for long-term successes. Indeed – should other foundations follow suit – we may be entering a new era of nonprofit funding, one that will produce more efficiency and able institutions.

Success – however – is contingent on patience and diligence. The Ford Foundation’s experiment will be meaningless if, after a short time, the philanthropy switches back to its old model. To see whether operational investment makes the profound difference its proponents claim it will, the model has to be set in place for years. As exciting news as the Ford Foundation’s announcement is, it’s significance will largely be determined by the foundation leadership’s commitment to this visionary framework.

Charleston Shooting: How You Can Help Families Affected

The heinous violence that transpired on June 17 in Charleston, S.C., has left a community devastated and an entire nation grappling with questions concerning violence and race.

The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston has long been a symbol of empowerment for the African-American community for nearly two centuries. The church is home to the oldest black congregation south of Baltimore, and has been a meeting ground and rallying point for generations of influential and courageous leaders. For its importance in black organizing, the church was repeatedly attacked throughout its history.

In every sense of the phrase, the church is an historical treasure – a symbol of U.S. heritage and the fraught and difficult experience of people targeted by racism.

And now, following this week’s brutal violence directed at it, the church can use your help. The city of Charleston has set up a fund for the nine victims’ family members, and has itself pledged $5,000 for funerals, counseling services, and other forms of assistance.

People across the United States can donate by walking into any Wells Fargo location and specifying that she/he is interested in giving to the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund.

The fund also accepts checks made out to “Mother Emanuel Hope Fund” at the following address:

Mother Emanuel Hope Fund

C/O City of Charleston

P.O. Box 304

Charleston, SC 29402

Philanthropy Rebounds: 2014 Sets Fundraising Record




U.S. philanthropic reached a new high in 2014, quelling concerns that the nonprofit sector would face a decade of stagnation following the Great Recession in 2008.

In Wake of Slayings, Reflecting on Courage of Aid Workers

Humanitarian organizations and their workers face many dangers. Their work often pulls them into crisis zones that pose safety risks outside of the human experience or understanding of many average donors and nonprofit workers.

In particularly tragic circumstances, these risks can prove fatal.

On June 2, seven Afghan employees of the Czech nonprofit People in Need (PIN) and two guards were shot and killed, some in their sleep. Assailants attacked one of the NGO’s compounds in Northern Afghanistan. Local officials blamed the Taliban for the attack.

PIN has operated in Afghanistan since 2001. According to the organization’s website, the group’s operations are “based on the ideas of humanism, freedom, equality and solidarity.”

Just two weeks prior to the tragedy, another horrific attack transpired in Kabul, in which the Taliban attacked a guesthouse popular with foreign aid workers. Fourteen individuals were killed, including a British citizen who worked for the British Council, a U.S. Citizen, four Indian nationals, two Pakistanis, and an Italian citizen.

Over the past year, a host of tragic slayings of humanitarian workers occurred in territories controlled by the pseudo-state ISIS. In February, Kayla Mueller – a 26-year old U.S. citizen – was slain by ISIS after being held for 18 months. Another U.S. citizen (and also former solider) Peter Kassig was executed in November of 2014. In September of last year, British citizen and aid worker David Haines was killed by ISIS.

These tragedies are a jarring reminder of the extreme situations that require humanitarian aid. Driven by a desire to ameliorate others’ suffering, humanitarian workers deserve recognition not only for their selflessness, but also their immense courage.

Fundamentally tied to the conditions of suffering that aid organizations work to alleviate, the violence that claimed these brave lives only reenforces the import of humanitarian work in these regions. Without stable communities fostering peace, extremism only worsens, claiming more innocent lives.

FIFA Fumbles Its Nonprofit Mission

On May 27, nine FIFA representatives – along with a handful of sports media executives – were arrested on corruption charges in Geneva, Switzerland. The United States-led case against soccer’s most powerful nonprofit institution is less surprising in the content of its allegations (bribery, racketeering, and fraud) than the extent of the indictments.

News reports appeared last year showing that FIFA officials may have received bribes from vested interests in Qatar for lobbying on the Middle Eastern country’s behalf in the campaign for the World Cup. Indeed, the last year has seen a host of stories concerning the less salubrious aspects of FIFA’s operations, including the nonprofit’s undue pressure on governments to change local laws in order accommodate sponsors’ interests. While these and other controversies were hardly secret, the multi-billion dollar institution exuded an air of invincibility, weathering criticism through its immense influence as the international administrator of the world’s most popular sport.

Sports are big business, and nonprofit sports institutions are not immune to the corrosive influence of billions of dollars in profits. Whether it is the exploitive profiteering of the NCAA or the evasiveness and obscurity of the NFL’s (now bygone) tax exemption status, United States sports fans have seen the unsavory – if not entirely illegal – side of sports nonprofits. Taken to the world stage, the picture gets even shadier. The larger scope often means that the corruption is more sinister, involving governments and business interests that are not held to the same human rights checks that U.S. sports fans naturally expect domestic institutions to adhere to.

Enter Qatar: the highly controversial recipient of the 2022 World Cup. One of the chief issues at play in last month’s indictments against FIFA representatives is the bribery of officials by Qatari interests – backroom arrangements involving illicit cash transfers that may have ultimately secured the rights to the World Cup for the Gulf state.

Outside of the excruciatingly high and perhaps disqualifying temperatures in Qatar (desert conditions can reach as high as 120 degrees Fahrenheit), critics also say that the nation’s abusive labor practices should bar it from hosting the Cup. The massive development projects currently underway to build stadiums for the tournament depend on inhumanely treated and miserably compensated migrant workers from Southeastern Asia, including Nepalese, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi, and Indian workers. According to reports, as many as 1,200 workers have died since construction projects began in 2010. To put this in perspective, the closest contemporary fatality rate for a massive world sports competition development project was the Sochi Olympics, which saw the deaths of 60 workers. The Guardian projects that migrant worker deaths in Qatar could reach as high as 4,000 by the completion of the project.

Qatar’s ruthless labor practices don’t stop there. Reports indicate that workers are compelled to work in scorching weather with little to no access to water. Often hired through third-party brokers, workers have their passports confiscated by employers upon arrival and face hefty contractor fees that largely negate their salaries. Recently, Nepalese workers were denied the right to return home to attend funerals for family members that perished in Nepal’s catastrophic earthquake.

Taken together, all of these components paint a picture of virtual slavery, tacitly endorsed by a mum FIFA.

Additionally, FIFA’s damaging effects on developing countries emerged as a big issue during the Brazil Cup. An ordinance that barred alcohol sales during soccer matches – legislation that, after it was passed, drastically decreased violence during sporting events in Brazil – was rescinded in order to placate Budweiser, one of FIFA’s biggest sponsors. FIFA shrugged off criticism concerning its stance on local autonomy, flippantly suggested that Brazilian authorities simply had no say as to whether or not its own laws were enforced.

The supposed economic benefits of hosting the game was also proven erroneous. Brazil constructed the second most expensive stadium ever built, and it is now used primarily as a parking lot for public buses. The nation saw widespread demonstrations and unrest due to the perceived waste of government spending for a temporary event that catered primarily to foreign tourists and fans to the detriment of Brazilian citizens.

In the world of global sports, FIFA ranks among the most profitable organizations. This is due largely to the fact that soccer is by-and-large the world’s most popular sport. Between 2011 and 2014, FIFA earned around $5.7 billion, $1.6 billion of which came from corporate sponsorships alone. With labor abuses and internal corruption, FIFA’s unethical practices and sizable profit margin distract from the lofty principles of peaceful and honorable competition.

Whether or not the United States-led indictments lead to an overhaul of FIFA’s operations remains to be seen. Sepp Blatter – the long-time, controversial president of FIFA – was recently reelected to his position despite the scandal. Infamous for his suggestion that women’s soccer would be more popular if the athletes wore tighter uniforms, Blatter is criticized as out-of-touch and emblematic of the entrenched elite that control the mechanisms behind the institution.

The definition of what constitutes a nonprofit varies around the world, but at the core of the definition is the idea that an organization empowers people or otherwise contributes positively to human experience by promoting constructive causes. Sports are certainly an empowering cause, helping further everything from gender equality to health, economic opportunity to cultural understanding. FIFA’s stated mission is dedicated to “the constant improvement of football.” Whether or not it actually pursues this goal according to the values expected of an international nonprofit institution is contingent on rooting out structural abuses and aggressively advocating international standards of human rights for the benefit of all people from around the globe.

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